Researchers at Bonn University and collaborators have developed a novel blood test for the Hepatitis C virus, which they say is a low-cost but equally sensistive alternative to existing commercial tests.
The test will open up the possibility of developing countries monitoring all blood stocks for the virus using optimum methods.
The procedure is the work of researchers at Bonn University and the Bernhard-Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, with scientists from Brazil, Singapore, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
Around 170 million people worldwide are infected with Hepatitis C, an infection that is often unnoticed in its early stages. However, later symptoms include liver cancer and liver cirrhosis. One of the chief sources of infection lies in contaminated blood, and all the blood banks in Europe and the US are routinely tested for the virus.
Developing countries cannot afford this, often relying on older, less-sensitive tests. The new procedure could change all this. “In Brazil, a standard Hepatitis C test costs over $100 dollars a sample. [Our test], in contrast, costs [….] just under $19,” said one of the developers, Jan Felix Drexel. Of the $100 cost of commercial tests, $10 are accounted for by license fees charged by major pharmaceutical companies that hold patents on Hepatitis C genes.
The new test singles out a region of the Hepatitis C genome that is not used in any of the commercial tests. It has been successfully tested in Brazil, and the researchers have made their method available. “For anyone wishing to use this test we can also supply the control reagents,” Drexler said.
The procedure will not only detect the presence of Hepatitis C viruses, it can be used also to determine the total concentration of the viruses in the blood. This means it could be used the monitoring the effectiveness of treatments.